commuting in highly urban areas?

Discussion in 'Commuting and Road Safety' started by Guest, Jul 31, 2002.

  1. Guest

    Guest Guest

    My office is really only about 10 to 12 miles from home. I have often thought of commuting on my bike. But, quite honestly the people here scare me enough just driving in my car. I seems that I am almost in a wreck close to twice daily. And, I already drive the "backroads" into the office.

    Traffic here seems to start at 7:00AM and go until 9:30. And, traffic isn't just on the highways. As a matter of fact, it takes me 30 minutes to drive the 12 miles I have to get to work, just taking the side roads.

    I do have a shower here at work. Which is nice.

    I guess my concern is..this town isn't used to people riding bikes to work. As a matter of fact, I can't think of ANY instance where I have seen people riding to work. And, the evening traffic is even worse. It starts at 3:30/4 and goes until at least 7pm. It is QUITE ridiculous.

    Do you suggest even giving it a try? I mean, given the circumstances and the idiots. These people freak out when it rains. The all of a sudden can't drive at the slightest sprinkle. And, what kind of schedule would have to keep in order to avoid all the idiots?

    It just doesn't seem very safe to me...at least in my situation.

    Anyone got an urban commute that they make work?
     
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  2. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Hmmm... Urban idiots. Sounds a lot like this part of the world. It's funny how many cyclists think commuting is dangerous, but the truth is actually quite the opposite. The thing I've noticed around here is that I seem to have fewer problems riding to and from work (I do this every day, BTW). I find myself familiar with the roads I ride, and the drivers along those roads are quite familiar with me. The other thing is, people going to work generally have better things to do than harass cyclists.

    Of course, sometimes drivers in a rush can do some bloody stupid things, but the way I see it, the other factors balance it out. I've been doing it for years and I'm still alive!
     
  3. Eldron

    Eldron New Member

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    Some tips:

    Take it easy - buy a mountain bike and try sticking to the pavements. It doesn't fit our 'roadies must train hard' psyche but it makes for a relaxing ride to work rather than a 12 mile time trial. A heavy MTB with some interval training (go hard off the line from stop streets and traffic lights) will do your legs some good.

    Buy one of those luminous yellow geek vests - they look terrible and you'll lose street cred amongst fellow cyclists but I find cars try harder to miss me when I make myself ultimately visible.

    I think the key is to treat it like a relaxing alternative to driving rather than an asset to your training.
     
  4. Urban Assault

    Urban Assault New Member

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    The first few rides may be daunting but just try it. Remember that it is your road too! Like said above, if you have a set route and time then the other commuters that take that route seem to get used to seeing you and it won't be as much of an issue. It's also a great way to get ready for work. You are energized and warm. While everyone else is still trying to load up on coffee, you are awake, alive and felling great!
     
  5. ant evans

    ant evans New Member

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    I've commuted 10k miles in the UK, which is kind of unusual because it is a car-crazy culture in a tiny country with ancient narrow roads, but drivers are relatively alert and considerate (except for a few hoons in lowered gene-pool purifiers). The only accidents I have had have been with another cyclist; on wet roads with the wrong tyres; and on a patch of ice. In town, the main danger is lackwit pedestrians. Cars drive around you. Here's what I've learnt:

    Be visible when it's dark or near dark. Big lights, reflective stuff. A proper rear reflector is critical in addition to a light. We can learn from motorcyclists here. They know that drivers are programmed to look for wide objects -- they just can't see upright ones unless we are shining 35W of halogen into their motorised sitting rooms.

    Don't dither. Ride decisively.

    Beware old people, they have no peripheral vision.

    Do not use low straight bars if you have no front suspension. I have done lasting damage to my wrists. Raise them, get drops, or get suspension.

    Look ahead. Sounds, stupid, but if you're riding a TT bike or always looking for potholes, you'll run into a truck. Bikes can't turn or stop with four-wheeled traffic traffic, so you need to know what's happening ahead.

    Wear synthetic fibres if you want to get fit (sweat). Natural fibres don't work. Neither does a soft saddle.

    Keep the house warm so you don't overdress. Dress too warmly and you'll end up sweating, going slowly, and having a bad time. If you're cold, go faster.

    Rain isn't a problem. Cold rain (<5 deg C), hail and sleet are problems. Dry cold isn't a problem (above -5), but get good
    gloves. Overshoes are better than thick socks.

    Assuming you have sealed (or externally regreasable) hubs and pedals, the parts of the bike that suffer most from water are the headset and bottom bracket. Keep the water out, or let it out, or you can ruin your frame.

    Look after your chain, and it will look after you. This means mudguards in winter, with a stupid-looking mud flap on the front. You won't have to overhaul the transmission every week. Unless you have good weather -- then it doesn't matter.

    Warm up properly. This is what I've heard, anyway... I've never tried it.
     
  6. ant evans

    ant evans New Member

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    I forgot: if you live in a country where weather is an issue, get an outside thermometer (even better, one with an adiabatic weather predictor) and look at it before you get dressed. Don't go by what it looks like outside or you risk having a sub-optimal commuting experience. Nobody wants that.
     
  7. JSS

    JSS New Member

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    The number one thing to do is wear bright clothing so that people can see you, preferrably a neon-yellow vest with reflector stripes.

    Although this goes for cycling in general, keep your bike in good working order. Your boss doesn't want to hear excuses in general, and he/she really doesn't want to hear that your chain fell off or that you hit a rock that deflated your tire. That means tune-ups every six months, check tire pressure weekly, etc. Perhaps someone else can suggest a checklist of maintance items and how to do them.

    Before going for the first time, I'd advise riding there on the weekend to get a feel for what it will be like. Do you need a shower before you go to work? Can you carry everything you need? Do you wear nice shoes that you forgot at home? Where are you going to keep your bike? Will it be safe there?

    These suggestions, along with the rest of the thread, should serve you well. Happy riding!
     
  8. csmallfield

    csmallfield New Member

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    I live in an urban area that has the unfortunate habit of attracting tons of tourists, but I ride my bike 10 miles to work everyday. My advice would be assume the worst. Drivers in general, especially in this city, suck. Don't assume anyone will do anything that they are indicating. Cars have a body language and you need to take that into account in addition to turn signals and so on. In this city I assume that no one will signal, no one will be in the correct land and no one can see me. When you think like that you will be much safer.
    Also, try to keep your temper in check, people will cut in front of you, not give you the proper right of way and just mess you over. Let it go. Until we live in a Utopian society where there are no cars, it doesn't do much good to get mad.
    One more piece of advice, look in the rear windows of cars parked on the side of the road, see if any one is inside and if possible stay about 3 feet from the side of the car. People don't look when they get out and I have had some problems then.

    Please don't freak out about all that I have just said, it is safe, probably safer than driving, it's super fun, and I will never give it up. Pollution free traffic man.

    -Chris Smallfield

    P.S.- Learn the local laws too, it comes in handy because many officials don't even know them.
     
  9. Henry

    Henry New Member

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    I commute 12 miles one way in Denver and return in the wee hours. I also wear reflective clothing, namely a mesh-and-reflective tape vest of the sort roadworkers wear.

    I try always to make eye contact with drivers so that I'm reasonably sure they've seen me. It's amazing how often drivers will turn to look at you if you stare at them long enough. For this reason I would never consider a recumbent for riding in traffic. Sitting so low, you could never be sure if someone has seen you.

    As I've gotten older and (one presumes) wiser, I've given up sprinting to catch traffic lights. I find the harder you sprint, the more your situational awareness shrinks to a narrow cone immediately in front of you. You enter the intersection late in the cycle at high speed with a defensive awareness of what's going on. You end up meeting drivers trying to skirt through on the yellow who are also not paying full attention. Had some bad experiences that way.

    And I always call the time and temperature phone number, a practice which my spouse views with amusement. I live in a little valley and my house faces south, so it always feels much warmer and less windy that it really may be.
     
  10. Chris_L

    Chris_L New Member

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    I dunno, I've seen that one backfire too many times to bother with it anymore. A lot of drivers around here take it to mean that you've seen them, meaning they tend to charge straight through your path (regardless of red lights, stop/give way signs etc) without bothering to look. Personally, I look for a more reliable indication.
     
  11. Can

    Can New Member

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    I am a commuter in Chicago. I have enjoyed every trip rain, snow, ice, wind, or shine. My body is stronger than it has ever been and I have a stress relief system built into my transportation to and from work!!! =) Ant Evans's post above touches on some really important parts of commuting, remember to layer, and thick socks and shoe covers are better, and remember to get a balaclava =). There are so many facets of the challenge of commuting by bicycle, I think the most important is in the attitude. Ant says above "don't dither", I agree, drivers watch for what you are doing. If you show confidence and determination on the outside, your path will be more respected from in front and behind. I make a show that I am a serious and competant cyclist, I know where I am going, I know that people behind me on the road want road efficiency, and I know how to control my bike. Watch drivers eyes when possible, but, don't let them know your ready to yield for them, but be ready! expect them to make mistakes and know what your going to do when they do it. You have a right to be on that road, and if they make a mistake they could spend the rest of their life giving their paycheck to you. It is important to be visable and to know the road obstacles, watch out for car doors, don't compromise your proximity to parked cars because of seemingly near misses. You will get more comfortable with sharing your personal space with parts of multiple thousand pound speeding steam rollers. Really know your roads, both traffic and surface, holes and deep cracks can cause you to crash.
    Bridges are very dangerous, in Chicago they are not designed with bikes in mind, and I have ended up bouncing along on corragated latticed rusted steel on the wrong side of the road in a tshirt and shorts because I was not showing caution to an unknown surface. Try to refine your bike handling and confidance, I feel secure that I could have avoided that bridge incident with a bunny hop, a lack of hesitation, or speeds lower than 20 mph.
    This in retrospect seems kind of scary, and sometimes it is, but, the reason I am putting it out there is because these are some serious dangers, if you prepare, they won't be so bad. I have throughly enjoyed cycling, chasing down every thickwalleted "racing" cyclist on my commuter MTB to the freedom I have on a bike, whether I am on the sidewalk when an ambulance drives by, or a shortcut through the park, or slowly weaving through congested traffic with drivers face in hands. The beauties of cycing are many, and unlike so many of my co workers I have a smile at the beginning of every shift =).
    Two last tips, when it has snowed heavily and the road snow is now 6 inch thick black slush containing god-knows-what, follow a buses tire, it parts the sea of crud and you get a relatively clean ride. And finally, try drafting a bus in clean weathe too =) you will be going 26+ mph when he puts on he flashing lights and begins to slow, at which point you slingshot past and tear down the road passing cars and striking awe into drivers everywhere.
    Eat well (youll really notice it) Be safe, and enjoy yourself.
    Jacob
     
  12. ant evans

    ant evans New Member

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    Commuting in Chicago... respect where it's due.

    I also forgot: the other bit that suffers in bad weather is rims. I'm on my third set; they only do about 3000 miles before the grit wears them out, always back first. Don't wait until the sides explode to replace them.
     
  13. Randal Lovelace

    Randal Lovelace New Member

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    You haven't seen idiots yet, (come on down to Central Florida some real winners with a licence here)....

    Yes, take the 'risk' (I think you might be safer on a bike than in the crush of that traffic...)

    I was forced into it......but realizing that I am in no hurry to fix the Buick Electra Estate Wagon.....(its great for groceries, but at 13 miles to the gallon it doesn't seem worth it to drive it daily to work....maybe once I fix it I'll drive when it rains.....{Monsoon Rain that is})

    And I've lost 30 pounds since I started cycling......(admit the new job was a contributing factor as I throw 50 pound bags of sand all night)

     
  14. Geonz

    Geonz New Member

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    I would try it but I wouldn't be ashamed if it were past my danger threshold. I commute but so do a LOT of other people in this town and cars and drivers are, with notable exceptions, pretty accommodating. I mean, it's all very noble and all that but being a hood ornament isn't *that* noble; let the old common sense rule.
     
  15. manilacyclist

    manilacyclist New Member

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    I work nights, 10pm till 7am. To compound the issue, I ride to work and ride in MANILA! It's a nice place..if you're a tourist.
    While in the US I got myself this really bright orange vest with silver reflectorized tape from Heckinger's. This way there's no excuse for the driver to claim he did not see me.
    If there's defensive driving, there's also defensive cycling. Just be wary of all the things around you...people and cars can cause you disaster.
    If you listen to music through your walkman, discman or ipod, I suggest you don't. Leave it in the bag, you'll need all your senses while cycling the urban jungle. Stay safe!
     
  16. Henry

    Henry New Member

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    I agree completely. Assume you haven't been seen and ride accordingly.
    Up higher I made the comment about making eye contact with drivers. While I still think this works pretty well, this was before I read a recent Scientific American article which makes me a lot less sure.
    The article recounted an experiment in which volunteers watched a video of two teams of three players milling about on a court. The teams were passing a basketball to other members of the same team, and were weaving around in a complex fashion while they were doing it.
    The volunteers' task was to count how many times a given team passed the ball, and it was hard to do given the way the teams were switching places constantly.
    In the middle of the video, a man dressed in a gorilla suit takes center stage for a few seconds while the players weave around him. He beats on his chest a few times and then exits.
    An incredible number of the volunteers couldn't remember having seen the gorilla, so intent were they on counting the passes.
    The assumption is that they really didn't see him, an example of selective perception. So anything you can do to break a driver's myopic concentration on other cars (waving, reflective clothing, trying to make eye contact, etc.) is all to the good. Because when they say after the fact, "I didn't seem him," they may be telling the truth.
     
  17. stealie72

    stealie72 New Member

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    I commuted in DC for years. The trick for me was to ride almost like a messenger (only without the complete disregard for cross traffic).

    Contrary to most advice on commuting, I found the roads with the most traffic, because those were the most likely to be backed up to a dead stop or a crawl. Traffic is a lot safer when it's moving at 5mph. Then I'd just blast down between the two lanes of cars (both going the same direction). No danger of the right turn sideswipe, and because I was where people were expecting other cars to be, they actually looked there.

    When traffic was moving (which isn't often during DC commutes), I'd just get in a lane and blast as hard as I could. Chances are I was going about as fast as the cars.

    Also, never cross in front of a car till you make eye contact with the driver (despite Henry's post, it's better than nothing). Otherwise, you have no way of knowing if they saw you.

    My other advice is that if most of your commute is going to be on city streets, get yourself an urban assault rig. Mine is a completely rigid mt bike with nice big bar ends (to protect the hands, mostly), 1.75 inch slicks, and all the frame wrapped in old tubes (makes the bike ugly and protects the frame). I can bash it over a curb, if need be, a whole lot easier than my road bike.

    The best piece of advice is to just get out there and do it. It's a lot easier than you think.
     
  18. lisan

    lisan New Member

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    I live in the DFW area and just rode to work for the first time today...and, yes, it was much easier than I thought.

    One thing that helped was I drove my route (and several alternative routes) the week before just to check out the shoulder on the road and other hazards.

    I also agree that the slower traffic (even when there's more of it) is much safer than the occasional, but 80 mph race car, that may or may not register that a cyclists is a few feet away.

    Also, definitely make sure you have a good mirror (I have one that mounts on my handlebar and it works great - was surprisingly stable) and take your time getting there. The advice about not sprinting to catch a light was excellent advice!

    GOOD LUCK and let us know how it goes.

    Lisa
     
  19. tcklyde

    tcklyde New Member

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    I commute to work. I also live and work in a community that respects the cyclists, has bike lanes, and all the drivers expect heavy cyclist traffic. As I also drive to run errands, etc., I know to look out for bikers.

    What worries me about your question is that you say you live in a communtiy that doesn't have many bike commuters. I was born in a town in the American midwest where one is as likely to a see a bike commuter as a Japanese pickup truck. Honestly, there's not a chance in hell I'd ride there. The drivers drive too fast, too arrogantly, and aren't trained to look for bikers. Even in crunchy granola Cambridge, MA, where I live now, I've been flipped off, cut off and pissed off more times than I care to remmeber. Take this into account. Think about the roads you'd ride. Are they wide? Is the traffic slow?

    Everyone else covers the relevant points: helmet, lights, reflectors, bright colors.

    Oh, contrary to one commenter's opinion, don't ride a moutain bike. Mountain bikes are designed for riding rough trail terrain, not city roads. Knobbly mountain bike tires are not suited to riding on streets. The ideal street tire is perfectly smooth. Knobbly tires offer poor traction and wear out quickly. If you want an upright position , get a hybrid.
     
  20. lonz

    lonz New Member

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    I commute every day too in Malta which is a densely populated country, and the drivers are mad :( all i can tell you is that you will feel refreshed when u arrive work and that you do not have to cycle through the traffic ladden streets you could find a parallel street which have less traffic and more countryside. i Doubled my trip in order to get a ride near the sea it is worth it so. Just try commuting on a weekend and then start slowly.
     
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